A Quick Look at a Corporate Funder's Latest Efforts to Diversify Tech



Micron Technology may not a household name, but in addition to supporting STEM education, the Boise-based company has been a strong proponent of diversifying tech and closing the gender gap in an industry that needs all the help it can get. Its Micron Foundation has donated over $100 million since its inception in 2009.

The company recently announced $10 million in funding to support global programs and activities that support women and other underrepresented groups, including the establishment of a $1 million fund earmarked for Virginia-based universities. The commitment complements the publication of the Micron Diversity and Inclusion FY18 Annual report, which tracks the company’s progress in areas like gender equity, philanthropy, and compensation.

I’ll take a closer look at these developments momentarily. But first let’s check to see how funders are addressing diversity in a tech industry where, according to recent studies, women only comprise 30 percent of the tech workforce.

Measuring Progress

Recent gifts in this space include VMware's $15 million gift to launch Stanford University’s VM Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab, Google allocating six years of free rent to the CU Boulder-founded National Center for Women & Information Technology, and Chicago-based energy company Exelon Corporation’s $3 million commitment to support the U.N. Women HeForShe’s STEM Innovation Leadership Academy.

A larger analysis these types of gifts suggests that money is frequently paired with greater corporate transparency. Funders understand that while it’s nice to cut checks, they need to lead by example. Exelon, for example, has had a formal diversity and inclusion program since 2008.

This brings me back to Micron, whose inaugural Diversity & Inclusion FY18 Annual Report gauged the effectiveness of its own diversity and inclusion efforts. Summarizing the state of affairs, the report states:

In terms of progress, we are heartened by the percentage of women engineers we see in many of our locations—most notably in our Singapore operations (30 percent). Likewise, we are encouraged by the overall percentage of Black/African-American team members at our site in Manassas, VA (17 percent). Across the globe and in the U.S., a significant portion of our workforce is Asian—including at the senior leadership level. All three of these are notable strengths on which we can and will continue to build.

Looking ahead, “one of our greatest opportunities for growth is among senior women leaders. We also see a need to attract more Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino and other underrepresented populations into the technology and manufacturing sectors.”

Supply and Demand

Another big issue as it pertains to the gender and diversity gap is the relative demand for specific STEM skills. A recent study found that in the decade ending in 2024, 73 percent of STEM job growth will be in computer occupations, while only 3 percent will be in the physical sciences and 3 percent in the life sciences.

The takeaway here is that some donors may be pushing women and minorities to STEM fields that aren’t long for this world. Or, as Case Western Reserve University's Peter E. Knox argued, “there’s simply no evidence that the U.S. lacks the scientists or engineers it needs, as many donors claim.”

Micron’s executives, cognizant of the fact that the financial health of the company hinges on the acquisition of select next-generation STEM skills, would beg to disagree. Its $1 million commitment to launch the Diversity and Opportunity Fund for Virginia Institutions of Higher Education will support “computer occupation” programs in futuristic-sounding areas like cleanroom and nanotechnology labs, unmanned and autonomous automotive systems, robotics, big data and embedded systems. (Should we expect anything less from a company that provides memory and storage technologies including DRAM, NAND, NOR Flash and 3-D XPoint memory?)

With a focus on women and underrepresented minorities, the new fund will give special consideration to programs that support low-income and first-time college students.

“These efforts reflect our company’s focus on investing in students and embracing diversity, as well as our long-term commitment to our Manassas [Virginia] facility and its team members,” said Micron Foundation Executive Director Dee Mooney. “We look forward to working with community and education leaders to identify and support programs that will make a difference for decades to come.”

In addition, Micron announced support for STEM camps for girls in Japan and Taiwan and plans to “expand its efforts to identify programs that support underrepresented groups at higher education institutions globally.” The $10 million in total funding also includes a $1 million grant for universities to “to conduct research into how artificial intelligence can improve lives while ensuring safety, security and privacy.”

Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Karen Metz was speaking for her company when commenting on these initiatives, but her sentiments can apply to the tech sector as a whole. “We recognize that embedding diversity and inclusion into all aspects of the organization will require continued focus and tenacity,” she said.

“This inaugural Micron report sets the foundation for driving and measuring meaningful change as we accelerate our efforts to build a global workforce that reflects the world that we live in, and the diversity of thought we need to drive innovation and competitive advantage.”